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  • Starting in 1960, I was sentenced to five years of minimum labor at a facility called Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia. It was a fierce place. Our sports teams were officially named the Railsplitters, but opposing teams, the local police and medics called us the Fighting Delinquents. Other schools displayed trophies in their lobbies; we took heads.

    It was a sprawling warehouse, housing some 5000 students, some of whom would collect Social Security before their diplomas. The building was two stories high, but rather than stairs, Lincoln boasted concrete ramps throughout. Teenagers being teenagers, the bottoms of these ramps were quickly colonized by the in-crowd as a venue to meet and greet one another, and woe betide the non-anointed who paused there too long to get their bearings.

    On a recent trip back to my home town, I learned some fascinating, if unnerving, things about my alma mater. Apparently the building was designed in the mid-50s to serve not one but two functions: primarily as a secondary school but also as an emergency center in case of war. The famous ramps were not intended as a roost for the rah-rahs to preen their feathers, but to make transporting the wounded on gurneys and wheelchairs quick and easy.

    The Powers That Be back then were supremely confident that nuclear war was survivable, even in a building whose perimeter consisted entirely of picture windows, ensuring that every living thing inside would die the Death of a Thousand Cuts from flying glass. They were willing to bet our lives, without our knowledge or consent. If the experiment failed, there were plenty more like us.

    Tell me again about the Good Old Days, boys. I’m all ears.
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